By Carolyn Crane
Pros: unique plot, obviously flawed protagonist (ie, she's not perfect, she's human)
Cons: all the men fell in love with the protagonist, her romantic choices were not to my liking, I figured out who the 'nemesis' was a quarter of the way into the novel
I am not the biggest fan of urban fantasy. I've found a few I really enjoy (Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros books, to book 3; Patricia Briggs' Mercedes books, to book 2). I find, as much as I like strong female characters, female characters who can't ask for help, or refuse to ask for help, annoy me. Basically because the men end up helping anyway and then the women look like, well you know what I'm getting at.
Mind games is different enough that I though I'd like it. The protagonist, Justine Jones, is not a self-confident, kick ass kind of woman. Rather, she's a hypochondriac, who's intensely afraid of vein star syndrome, the condition that killed her hypochondriac mother. Ultimately, she wants to be normal.
The premise is exciting and unique. She's warning a couple away from a scam artist at a restaurant when the restaurant owner, Packard, tells her he's set the man up to be 'disillusioned'. He also states he can cure her of her condition, and wants her help to reform other criminals.
Justine doesn't like the vigilanteism of the job, but wants to be rid of her fear so as to improve her current relationship. That's when the mind games begin. Both with her messing with their target's minds, and Packard messing with hers.
Sounds intriguing, right? So, why didn't I like it?
First off, Crane falls pray to another urban fantasy stereotype that I don't particularly like: everyone falls in love with Justine. This was a problem for me considering she had a boyfriend and she ostensibly wanted to keep him. (More on this in the spoiler section.)
And the plot was fairly transparent. That's not really a problem. I figured out who the 'bad guy' was fairly early, but it didn't detract from the story. The rather quick rap up of events was a problem. I was unconvinced things would go over as well as they did. (More on this below too.)
If you like urban fantasy and you want to try something original, this is a good read. It's quick and entertaining. Just try not to over analyze it too much.
*** MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW ***
So first, her relationships. She's with a decent guy at the start of the book. Packard, who can see the psychological make-up of people, explains she's with him because she wants to be normal and that he's only interested in the parts of her that fit his lifestyle. Whereas Packard, of course, loves her for who she is. Even though he lies to her and feels no remorse for trapping her into a dependent relationship with him.
In her defense, despite her attraction to Packard, Justine tries to avoid letting things go to far. When she kisses him, she's distraught because she feels like she's betrayed her boyfriend. Even after the boyfriend's out of the picture she tries to keep things cool between them.
My problem with this is that someone who honestly wanted to keep things platonic could have done a better job. At no point did she examine why she felt attracted to him despite his mistreatment of her. At no point did she decide she should make sure they were never alone together, thereby reducing the temptation to go further than she intended. She can not be held responsible for his actions, his desire to seduce her, but she can be held responsible for her lack of action to stop this behaviour considering she was determined not to cheat on her boyfriend.
Even more disturbing is her relationship with Otto. She's enamoured of his image as police chief. That's well established through the book. But once she's convinced by Packard that he's a killer you'd think any romantic ideas would disappear. Not so. She sleeps with him on their first date (their second meeting). Not only that, but while they're having sex she 'zing''s him, giving him all her fears, etc. In other words, she psychologically attacks him while they're 'doing it'. The entire scene was less erotic and more creepy for me considering what we're led to believe about the guy. Even though I believed Packard's story about Otto was wrong, I was disturbed by the idea that Justine, who DID believe it, would sleep with him. The whole scene felt off.
The 'love' scene also took place after a restaurant scene wherein Justine notices that Otto's not asking her input for anything. He chooses the restaurant, he orders their meals. And when they go back to his place, right before things get down and dirty, he's making remarks that Justine considers threatening. So, why's she willing to sleep with him again?
And then there's the, rather unclimactic, ending. Otto, who locked Packard up 8 years previous because he was a dangerous crime lord, releases him on the promise that Packard will be good now and only disillusion people Otto tells him to.
That's it. There's no discussion. Otto accepts his promise and Packard goes free. No mention of the fact that Packard's psychologically manipulating people already. No mention of what his new crime lord status will lead to.
I found Justine's 'humerous' thought about the two men at the end very disturbing as well. "It's amusing, the way Packard and Otto both take credit for everything." Um, that's actually not amusing. That's narcissistic. And it's not a good thing in a boyfriend if you've got self-esteem issues. It's not a good thing in a boyfriend period. Rather than feeling triumphant at the end of the book, I felt sorry for Justine. I sense major psychological hardships ahead for her.